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Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao Preview

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It's finally here! Well, not quite yet but in case you need any more reason to get that big fight feeling Kyle McLachlan brings you an in-depth preview of the fight of the century.

Note: Unfortunately due to the high volume of spammers we have been forced to close comments on this post.

You have clicked on this link and are looking at this page, so it's a given that you have access to the internet. So I am assuming that you already know about the huge fight which happens this Saturday night (or Sunday morning in certain parts of the world) and have at least a basic understanding of what it means for the sport of boxing and the two pugilistic legends involved.

A fair assumption? Maybe not. Maybe you're a fan of Mixed Martial Arts who frequents Bloody Elbow but has little to no interest in the sweet science. Perhaps you're not even a fan of combat sports in general and came here after you put the names Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao into a search engine after hearing constant discussion by your work colleagues over the last few weeks?

This fight--and this is a point worth reiterating to combat sports fans who live in the bubble of the fight game and assume that everybody is as interested as they are--has crossover appeal. Unlike the Super Bowl which remains an American institution while having fans internationally, boxing has always been an international sport.

And what better way to thrust boxing back into the limelight than to have a fight with a back story, with the greatest of styles clashes, with juxtaposing characters from completely different ends of the planet?

But who are they? Even if you already know it's worth revisiting.

Floyd Mayweather

Often brash and swaggering, Floyd 'Money' Mayweather is unlike playground bullies in that when he's confronted he backs it up. In fact he's never failed to back it up, in an eighteen year career that to this date remains unblemished.

A world champion since 1998, Floyd Mayweather hasn't tasted defeat since he was an amateur, and even then it was a controversial defeat to Bulgarian Serafim Todorov.

Controversy aside, the decision rendered by the judges--or rather the computers controlled by judges that gave two opportunities for incompetence--forced Floyd Mayweather to accept a bronze medal in the 1996 Olympics. The last time he has failed to become champion.

In the years following that defeat, Floyd Mayweather has gone through two monikers, five weight divisions and a host of future Hall-Of-Fame inductees. Among his most impressive scalps are legendary figures such as Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley and Juan Manuel Marquez, as well as top quality champions like the late Genaro Hernandez, light welterweight kingpin Ricky Hatton and Jose Luis Castillo who was at that time the very best lightweight in the world.

All in all, Floyd Mayweather has been tried forty seven times in the paid ranks, and no-one has succeeded in beating him.

Not that he hasn't been pushed. Quick on his feet and even quicker with his hands, Floyd Mayweather's greatest attribute is his ability to adapt his strategy to suit his opponent. Rather than watching extensive tape on his future foes, he simply adapts to them in the ring and shuts down their offence. His fights are often high on science and low on excitement.

But Floyd Mayweather is no longer the 'Pretty Boy' Floyd of old. From his days as the super featherweight champion to his tearing through the light welterweight ranks, Floyd has had the ability to put together bursts of punches in accurate combinations and take his opponent to the cleaners. Since he has moved up to welterweight he has taken a more refined and restrained approach, relying on his excellent reflexes and unerring defensive ability.

Those that have pushed him closest are those that can force him to fight at a pace he is uncomfortable with. While that seems contradictory to my previous point that Mayweather adapts his style to his opponent as the fight goes on there are opponents that cannot be swayed by the fear of being countered.

The times Floyd has been pressed are sporadic, but give us an indication where his weaknesses--and yes he does have some--are and how he can be beaten. Jose Luis Castillo picked his shots and worked his way in close to Floyd in their first fight, but Mayweather pulled out a close decision in a fight where he was carrying an injury. In the rematch Castillo was tamed by Mayweather in a disciplined display of boxing. At light middleweight the all-time great Oscar De La Hoya put his jab in Mayweather's face constantly to the sweep the first five or six rounds before Mayweather got his timing down and countered his way to victory down the stretch.

But both of these examples were years ago. If we are to look at a reasonable fight for gauging where Mayweather's weaknesses lie as of tomorrow night then we need to look at his last two fights.

Marcos Maidana was thought by many to be a bit of a walkover for Floyd. A gutsy, strong and determined fighter with heavy hands, the Argentine was nevertheless a fighter who had already played out his shortcomings against lesser fighters than Floyd Mayweather. Slow of hand and foot, Maidana was a come forward fighter who was good for excitement but also easy to outmaneuver. Amir Khan managed it despite taking a drubbing and Devon Alexander managed to out-speed and out general Maidana throughout their contest.

Yet Floyd Mayweather struggled with Maidana at times. It is not as easy as saying speed and ring generalship beats Maidana so Floyd will easily beat Maidana because Floyd Mayweather is his own man and has his own unique stylistic tics, many of which are what make him so great.

But Maidana's awkwardness and his disregarding of the boxing textbook that Mayweather has studied and mastered caused Floyd's timing to be off. Although he came through a grueling twelve round bout in their first contest and made the necessary adjustments in their September 2014 rematch to win a lot more comfortably on the cards there are a few signs that Mayweather is slowing down. Maidana--slow of hand and foot as aforementioned--managed to counter punch the master counter puncher. He even managed to jab with the master of the jab, which would seem unthinkable a few years ago.

Mayweather supporters were quick to emphasise that Maidana had come on leaps and bounds technically under new trainer Robert Garcia. What many have been unwilling to acknowledge is the fact that--as much as the teak tough Argentinian came well prepared--Floyd Mayweather is beginning to slip.

Enough that he will lose the biggest fight of his career? Perhaps not. But if Maidana caused him issues, can Manny Pacquiao do the same?

Manny Pacquiao

Unless you've been in a cave, in outer space or in a coma for the past few weeks you will have seen on your local news provider or sports channel that Manny Pacquiao is a tremendously popular guy.

A hero in his native Philippines--where he fought his way out of poverty--and a fan favourite all around the world, 'Pacman' has been in some thrilling scraps over the years against some of boxing's best.

While Floyd Mayweather has cleared out some of the tools in his toolbox and stripped himself back to use the bare minimum he needs, Pacquiao has had to refine his over many years to become a more complete fighter.

If you want to know what makes Manny Pacquiao great however, it's always been there.

Pacquiao has always been a bit of a whirlwind. The left handed power puncher has been game and exciting whichever stage of his career you look at, and has only put on more clothes rather than changing his look entirely.

As a tall but emaciated flyweight--which as far removed from his actual prime we can view footage of--Pacquiao was big on heart but very short on technical ability. Possessing raw athletic gifts such as hand speed and a natural dig are not usually enough to be successful in the lower weight classes, which tend to be populated by very technical fighters.

Chatchai Sasakul was one of these technicians. A former top-level Muay Thai fighter and Olympic boxer, he had beaten everyone he had faced in the professional boxing game and held the WBC flyweight  championship when he came across an unknown challenger from the Philippines.

An easy fight for the Thai for most of the bout as he out-boxed and picked off his plucky but hopelessly outmatched opponent.

Until Manny landed a left hand from Hell that left the champion laid out, his title as well as his senses lost. This was in 1998, and in the seventeen years since Pacquiao has fought forty more times and claimed titles in six more divisions.

Over this time Pacquiao has added a lot to his arsenal. Primarily left hand-happy in his early career, he has added layers to his offence--including a terrific right hand--and refined his footwork and raised his ring IQ through experience and tutelage under Freddie Roach after Manny moved Stateside to further his career. He suffered a few bumps on the road along the way but with Roach in his corner has climbed to the top of the mountain, improving from fight to fight and overcoming losses to dominate the sport from featherweight to welterweight.

Not that it's been easy. A primarily offensive minded fighter, Pacquiao could never be confused with the defensive savant that will oppose him on Saturday night. He took two attempts to beat Mexican all-time great Erik Morales, and had three extremely tight and difficult engagements with another Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez which culminated in their fourth fight in 2012, and Pacquiao being on the wrong end of the greatest knockout of the era.

But Pacquiao has fought everyone--and often--so has not cultivated an undefeated record. Outwardly he expresses the opinion that losses neither bother him nor should be seen as being out of the ordinary for someone in his chosen profession.

This is the opposite to what Floyd Mayweather espouses. To a modern boxing fan or the uninitiated you may feel that Mayweather is the better fighter on the simple fact that he has never been beaten and Pacquiao has. It suggests a vulnerability to the latter and an insurmountable air to the former.

But one thing that needs to be taken into account is that although Pacquiao's style has changed a lot over the years, his mindset never has. Even in the wake of the shocking end to his fourth bout with Juan Manuel Marquez--where the hero of the Philippines laid on the canvas for a long time--Pacquiao remained unperturbed. Any changes to his style since then have not been through a lack of confidence but merely more refinement to his whirlwind style. When he gets hit he learns and adapts just as Mayweather does.

But is it enough to solve the puzzle of Mayweather?

How they match up

If you want to know just why everybody is talking about this fight, it's not just because of the narrative outside of the ring (The 'will they--won't they', the drug testing controversy, their loyal fan bases) but the narrative they will weave inside the ring.

Floyd Mayweather is the counter fighter and possesses the better boxing brain, but he's never faced an offensive dynamo as smart or as quick as Pacquiao. There is a train of thought, that if Demarcus Corley and Zab Judah can cause Floyd a few problems then Manny Pacquiao will be able to cause him even more and beat him. Bloody Elbow's resident technical analyst Connor Ruebusch and I looked at Floyd versus southpaws in this video.

Pacquiao has problems when being forced to cover a lot of ground to hunt down his opponents. Floyd is great at dictating the range and plays the perfect matador. There are many that feel that 'Pacman' will struggle to track Floyd down even more than he did with Juan Manuel Marquez. Connor Ruebusch and I looked at Manny versus counter punchers in this video here.

So both fighters seem to hold the key to beating the other. In terms of their place in their own era, many fans and analysts find it hard to split Mayweather and Pacquiao. Some are saying that this fight will determine once and for all who the greatest fighter of this era is. So that only leaves one question.

Who will win?

If Manny Pacquiao is to defeat Floyd Mayweather he'll need to be the best version of himself he has ever been. More accurate, more awkward and more defensively responsible than he's ever been before. He'll need to show Mayweather angles that even the peerless defensive genius cannot handle, and fight in bursts and spin out so that Mayweather cannot get the timing down on his counter punches.

If Floyd Mayweather is to win he'll need to be the Floyd Mayweather that we have already seen but hasn't appeared to be in the ring for the last two fights. Reflexively sharp, intelligently controlling the distance and scarily accurate on the counter. Floyd doesn't tend to open up offensively against southpaws, instead opting for a one dimensional offensive output and low work rate. He may need to open up a little bit more against Pacquiao, who could steal rounds based on activity even if his work is untidy and less effective than Mayweather's.

My pick? Floyd Mayweather by unanimous decision. Why? Well you'll have to watch this to find out.

For more Mayweather vs. Pacquiao coverage please head over to http://www.sbnation.com/pacquiao-mayweather